Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Hiking Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Last weekend I took a trip to the coast and ended up visiting the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. If you follow my blog (hit the follow button on the right if you don’t), you know that I love hiking and exploring new places, so I was super excited to discover Bolsa Chica. I haven’t gotten to do as much exploring in California as I’ve wanted, so a trip to Bolsa Chica is just what I needed.

History

Bolsa Chica has a tumultuous history. The earliest known inhabitants lived here 8,000 years ago, but not much is known about them. Since then, other Native American groups have moved in, later to be culturally dominated and killed by diseases brought by Spanish colonists and missionaries.

It was one of these Spaniards, Joaquin Ruiz, who gave the land its name. His sister had inherited land from her father-in-law and given Joaquin 8,000 acres of her inheritance. She had named her land Rancho Las Bolsas, The Purses, so he called his small tract of land Rancho La Bolsa Chica, The Little Purse.

In the 1800s, when California became part of the United States, Spanish land grants were required to be registered. Many Spaniards had to take out loans to pay these registrations that they could not repay, and so lost their land. A portion of Bolsa Chica was lost in this way and sold to some Los Angeles businessmen for a duck hunting preserve. The tides made for poor hunting, so a dam was built across one of the channels. In a short while, this dam transformed the salt water marshes into fresh water ponds, devastating the local ecology.

In the 1900s, Bolsa Chica was the site of oil and natural gas drilling and later an artillery battery during World War II. In 2004, efforts began to restore Bolsa Chica to its original conditions. More than 500 acres have been restored thus far.

Environment & Wildlife

Bolsa Chica is a salt marsh wetland. It is also a seasonal estuary, where the ocean tide and the river current flow into each other. Salt water enters the wetlands throughout the year at several points. During the rainy season, freshwater flows into the wetlands through a flood control channel. The meeting of salt water and fresh water creates brackish conditions in several areas of the park.

One of the main draws to Bolsa Chica are the birds. Hundreds of bird species frequent the reserve, so you’ll be sure to spot something cool during your visit. I saw plenty of sandpipers and other water birds fishing, but my favorite birds were the hummingbirds. There were several flitting among the flowers along the path. I got as close as I could to get some pictures before the moved on to the next flower.

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There’s plenty of life in the water as well. Since Bolsa Chica is on the ocean, marine life abounds. Be sure to bring polarized sunglasses so things in the water are easier to spot. I saw a school of smelt, which looked really cool with the sun reflecting off their bodies as they swam. I also spotted a little stingray, which I was excited about because I’ve never seen one in the wild before. If you’re lucky, you may also see a shark or a guitarfish or even an octopus hiding behind the rocks.

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Of course, you’ll always see animals on land when you hike. I saw plenty of rabbits and ground squirrels running around. They do blend in with the brown dirt and grass really well, though, so you have to have a good eye to spot them. I don’t often see wild lizards, so I was very excited to spot a western fence lizard.

Hiking

There are 5 miles of trails at Bolsa Chica. I hiked along the Mesa Trail and part of the Pocket Loop Trail. The trails are very well maintained and mostly flat, so it isn’t a strenuous place to hike as long as you stay on the trails.

If you go off the trails, there are rattlesnakes, black widows and poison oak to contend with. Bolsa Chica is also home to some rare and endangered plants and animals, so staying on the trails can prevent damage to the plants and the animals’ environment.

A trail map of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve can be found here.

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